Concern over politicking prompts culling politics from campuses

From taking centre stage and even altering the political future of the State, students’ unions have almost vanished from city college campuses, leaving behind a generation of youth that has no democratic means to address their concerns on college premises.
Concern over politicking prompts culling politics from campuses


hile there is no official ban on college elections by the State government, an oral instruction from the Higher Education Department has resulted in many government-run and aided institutions having only token representation of the students. Even the few private colleges where the students’ union exists, they are shorn of party politics and function under the strict surveillance of the institution management.

Such is the insignificance that student politics is dealt with that not a single mention about students’ union in higher education is there in the New Education Policy brought out recently by the Union Government.

“The role of students and their democratic functioning in campuses, especially higher education institutions, is absent from the policy. The previous education policy of 1986 had a separate section on the contribution of students, including the need for democratic spaces of discussion,” said I Arul Aram, president The Tamil Nadu Federation of University Faculty Association.

In his opinion, the systemic curbing of the rights of students by the Centre and State governments and also by the Universities must be stopped forthwith.

“Students must be allowed to voice their views on the policies of the universities and education in general,” he said, adding, “Any new policy on education should be consulted, in letter and spirit, with all the stake-holders such educationists, teachers and students.” According to him, democratisation of campuses could be brought about by conducting student union elections.

Echoing him, former Anna University vice-chancellor and ex-member of the Union Public Service Commission E Balagurusamy said that student representation was essential for any educational institution. “Elected student representative will not only solve issues faced by the pupils, but also give suggestions to the management to improve the institution’s standard.”

Such is the present scenario that Pachaiyappa’s College, a campus which played a key role during the anti-Hindi imposition agitation, have not had a students’ union election for nearly two decades. The last election was held way back in 1996, said S Kalairaj, a former principal of the college, who claimed that students were free enough to approach the management directly to resolve their issues then and there. Other government-aided institution such as Presidency College, Dr Ambedkar Law Universityand Madras University have also stopped conducting student union elections.

Those including faculty members not in favour of campus politics in government colleges blame the series of violent incidents that were witnessed inthe past for this rejection of campus politics. “If union elections are conducted, politics will enter the campus, which is a big issue,” said K Lakshmanan, former lecturer, Pachaiyappa’s College.


According to veteran academicians, it was the anti-Hindi imposition agitation in the late 1960s that paved the way for students to enter State politics. Recalling those days, they explained how the Tamil Nadu government had formally opposed the imposition of Hindi, but the Centre paid little heed to that. However, students continued to resist the move and took up the demand in the fourth Assembly elections in 1967. The success of these student uprising was never more evident than in the election when a student leader, P Seenivasan of the DMK, defeated the towering leader of the Congress, K Kamaraj, at Virudhunagar. Around the same time, students’ groups from the then Madras Pachaiyappa’s College organised a massive conference against the attempts of the then Congress government at the Centre to impose Hindi across the country. Young leaders like K Kalimuthu, Sedapatti R Muthiah and Durai Murugan, the present treasurer of DMK, actively participated in the anti-Hindi protest in the State.

According to K Sridhar of the DMK, the secretary of Harbour constituency students’ wing, many of the students who grew interested in politics joined the DMK. However, added the former student of Nandanam Arts College in late ‘80s, “After the AIADMK came to power, its government started clamping down the students’ politics in the campus.” But despite being an active participant student politics, Sridhar knows why there are not many supporters for campus politics these days. “Students now-a-days, especially in government colleges, indulge in violent activities, which irks the people,” he noted.

Senior Congress leader and former union minister EVKS Elangovan, who used to actively participate in college union activities during his student years, said campus activities formed the first rung to climb for a career in politics. “I was motivated by the students’ union to become an active politician. Those days, I used to work hard for the cause of the students during the union elections,” he said, adding: “I was also an active Congress worker during my student days.”

After completing his graduation, he was attached to Periyar District Youth Congress, of which he was a member from 1978 to 1980. Elangovan grew within the party ranks over the years to become the general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) in 1998. Elangovan, who did Bachelor of Arts at Presidency College in Chennai during 1969, said students’ voices are not heard these days, as unions do not exist in most of the institutions.

Commenting on the present condition of campus politics, Tamil Nadu State secretary of SFI V Mariappan said there was widespread concern over the absence of students’ union in many of the colleges in the State. However, though most of the managements do not encourage union activities, students continue to take up social issues. “Students these days are very clever. They know what is happening around them, and take note of what we do to resolve various issues. They come to us as our organisation take up issues they face,” he claimed. The SFI leader recalled his outfit’s major successful protest, which forced the government to withdraw the plan to demolish Queen Mary’s College when late J Jayalalithaa was the chief minister. Students’ union was essential at all institutions to take up all campus issues, he added.

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